Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)228/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ED

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting
held on Tuesday, 28 July 1998 at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present:

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)*
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)*
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon SIN Chung-kai*
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP*
Hon CHOY So-yuk*

Public Officers Attending:

Item II

Mr Joseph W P WONG
Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Helen C P Lai YU
Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education (Information Systems)

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr CHENG Yan-chee
Principal Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting

Item III

Mrs Helen C P Lai YU
Director of Education

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Lily S K LAI
Acting Chief Executive

Curriculum Development Institute
Mr CHENG Yeuk-nin, Brian

Chief Research and Survey Officer
Consumer Council

Item IV

Mrs Helen C P Lai YU
Director of Education

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Acting Assistant Director of Education
(Allocation and Support)

Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Clerk in Attendance:

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance:

Mr Stanley MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(2)99/98-99)

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 July 1998 were confirmed.

II. Consultation document on Information Technology for Quality Education
[Paper No. CB(2)97/98-99(01)]

The Chairman invited members to give comments on the consultation document on "Information Technology for Quality Education - 5-year Strategy 1998/99 to 2002/2003" issued by the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) in June 1998. Members of the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting were also invited to attend discussion of this item.

2. Referring to the discussion at an earlier meeting of the Information Technology and Broadcasting Panel in the morning, Ms Emily LAU expressed concern that the Government had adopted a rather conservative approach in formulating the five-year strategy on the use of information technology (IT) in education. Given the fast-changing nature of IT and the lead time required for teacher training, she was worried that the Government's proposed timetable might lag behind the demands of the community. In response, Secretary for Education and Manpower (SEM) said that the Government was aware of the importance of maintaining the competitiveness of our next generation and keeping pace with the rapid development of IT. The consultation document set out what the Government expected to achieve in five years with regard to four strategic areas in enhancing the use of IT in education, namely, teacher enablement, curriculum and software, hardware provision and network infrastructure. During consultation, the Government would welcome suggestions in these areas and on ways to stimulate students' interest to learn with the aid of IT and to enhance their IT skills and vision through learning.

3. As regards the public comments received on the consultation document, SEM said that the Education Commission had made a number of suggestions at its meeting on 27 July 1998 and supported the early establishment of a network infrastructure including an Intranet for use by teachers and students. The Board of Education would set up a working group to examine the document before making recommendations to the Bureau. Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (PAS/EM) added that not many public submissions had been received during the early stage of consultation which would end on 31 August. The comments received mainly touched upon teacher training and software development. While different views were expressed on the benchmarking for teacher training, there was in general support on the need for setting targets for teaching and learning, and making provisions for software development and technical support in schools.

4. Considering that the next generation must be IT-competent in order to maintain Hong Kong's competitiveness in the new IT era, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said he had suggested previously that the Government should provide direct subsidy to families having financial difficulties to purchase computers. The subsidy could be made to needy families on criteria similar to those for textbook grants. The purpose was to avoid further widening the gap of the "haves" and the "have-nots" in terms of access to IT. In this connection, he expressed disappointment with the lack of progress on the part of the Government. Given the urgency to equip our next generation with the necessary IT skills, he urged the Government to give early consideration to his proposal.

5. SEM advised that IT in education was only part of the overall blueprint for IT development in Hong Kong and his bureau would work closely with the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau (ITBB) in consultation with the Education Commission, Board of Education, Education Department (ED) and other relevant departments. The initial thinking was to set up a task force comprising representatives of the concerned bureaux and parties to examine the proposals in detail and to monitor implementation. With regard to formulation of a co-ordinated and community-wide plan for the promotion of IT, this would involve the application of IT in community facilities like libraries, children and youth centres and community halls/centres. He took note of Mr CHEUNG's proposal which would be considered along with other suggestions received during consultation. In this connection, Ms Emily LAU considered that a joint meeting should be held with the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting in due course to discuss the proposals for enhancing the use of IT in the community. Panel Clerk

6. Mr Andrew WONG supported Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's proposal that Government should consider tax incentives or financial subsidies for purchase of computers and necessary accessories to encourage use of computers outside classrooms. In this connection, he asked whether it would be possible under the present policy for Government to deploy part of the $2,580 million provision earmarked for the measures already approved last year to subsidize students in the purchase of computers. SEM said that the Government would take into account members' suggestions in deciding the way forward. The Government would be prepared to re-examine the deployment of resources in the light of the overall policy and financial implications. Director of Education (D of E) added that ED was considering proposals on direct subsidies or tax incentives to encourage teachers to buy computers and improve their IT skills. Discussion was being held with the Board of Education and the Inland Revenue Department on the best approaches in the area.

7. Mr SIN Chung-kai pointed out that there should be greater flexibility for schools to deploy resources earmarked for the use of IT in education. He said that the red-tapes in tendering for computers would most likely result in bulk purchase of out-dated hardware and software. As computer workstations would usually be locked up after school hours, it would not be possible to maximize the benefits of those computers provided to schools. While he agreed with SEM that the first task in the coming five years was to equip teachers with IT skills, he remarked that students could often master the IT skills at a much faster pace than their teachers. It was therefore necessary to take this into account in the formulation of action plans. Mr SIN suggested that there should be concrete targets and timetable in respect of the number of teachers and students provided with access to Internet. Intranets should also be established to facilitate teachers to share their experience in the use of IT in teaching particular subjects. SEM said that he would consider Mr SIN's suggestions in consultation with ITBB and the concerned parties. The Government had yet to decide on the best approach for the acquisition of computer equipment and accessories for schools. He said that the consultation document had also made recommendations on the establishment of an education-specific Intranet to facilitate on-line sharing of teaching and learning experience.

8. Several members commented that the Government should no longer adopt a top-down approach and schools should have discretion to decide how best to use the provisions earmarked for promoting the use of IT in their schools. SEM responded that the Administration was fully aware of the importance of flexibility in implementation. The consultation document also emphasized on the school-based management approach and schools were encouraged to formulate their own plans to suit their needs.

SEM added that a pilot scheme involving 10 primary and 10 secondary schools had been launched to experiment on the approaches and strategies in promoting the use of IT in education. Assistant Director of Education (Information Systems) (AD/IS) informed members that the schools in the pilot scheme were given flexibility to implement their own IT plans while ED only played an advisory and supporting role in the process.

9. Some members were of the view that the pilot scheme would have little impact on stimulating the interest of students and teachers in the use of IT outside classroom. They suggested that schools should be given a lump sum or recurrent grant which they would have full authority to determine the uses within the boundary of some broad criteria. The arrangement would stimulate creativity and introduce healthy competition among schools in applying IT in education. It was noted that some schools did not have space to accommodate the 40 or 80 computers provided by ED. A better strategy would be to allow schools to freely use the money to buy their own equipment and software or subscribe to different networks, instead of setting a rigid target on the number of computers to be acquired for each school. SEM noted these comments.

10. With regard to the comment that the syllabus of computer studies was out-dated, Acing Chief Executive of Curriculum Development Institute (ACE/CDI) said that the syllabus was currently under revision to keep pace with the IT development. The revision aimed at developing students' ability to use different computer languages instead of only one computer language which could become out-dated within a short time.

11. Responding to concerns about the measures to mobilize the involvement and participation of private sector and the entire community, SEM advised that EMB would discuss with ITBB and relevant bureaux and departments to work out the strategy.

12. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration to take note of members' suggestions. He reminded members to forward any further views they might have on the consultation document before 31 August 1998.

III. Prices of school textbooks
[Paper No. CB(2)97/98-99(02)]

13. Members expressed grave concern that school textbook prices had been adjusted at a rate higher than inflation in past years, causing much financial burden on parents. They considered the existing measures ineffective in ensuring that prices of school textbooks were reasonable and affordable. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong urged Education Department (ED) to impose more specific requirements on textbook publishers starting from this year, and to remove from the Recommended Textbook List (RTL) books which failed to comply with the requirements. His suggestions were -

  1. to prescribe a maximum weight for all textbooks to encourage use of light-weight paper, so as to reduce the printing costs and the weight of students' schoolbags;

  2. to require separate publication of textbooks and workbooks/ exercises to discourage tie-in sales and facilitate re-use of old edition textbooks; and

  3. to prohibit publishers from donating school equipment or other gifts to schools as this would have impact on textbook prices and might give rise to conflict of interests.

14.Other members indicated support of Mr CHEUNG's suggestions. Responding to members' concern, ACE/CD1 said that the primary objective of compiling the RTL was to monitor the quality of textbooks and help schools select suitable textbooks. Textbooks submitted for review by ED would be included in RTL if their content and presentation met the requirements of the subject syllabus and the educational needs of students. Except for a few subjects such as Social Studies which required more frequent updating, ED would not review textbooks which had been updated within three years from the date of inclusion into RTL. Publishers were also encouraged to produce leaflets or corrigenda for minor amendments. They would not be allowed to change the edition of the textbooks. These measures aimed to reduce the burden of costs on parents.

15. D of E added that members' suggestions were already included in ED's guidelines to schools on the selection of textbooks and learning materials. The guidelines had recommended some selection criteria including the learning needs and ability of students, the financial burden on parents, consumer rights and weight of textbooks. As regards members' concern about the weight of schoolbags, D of E said that ED was equally concerned about its impact on the health of students and had repeatedly reminded publishers to use light-weight paper for textbooks and to split the exercises/workbooks from the textbooks. She emphasized that implementation of these measures would require the co-operation of schools, publishers and parents, especially with regard to the attitude towards re-use of old-edition books.

16. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung asked about the extent that ED's guidelines were complied with by publishers. Being a school teacher himself, he seldom received leaflets or corrigenda on minor amendments from textbook publishers. ACE/ED1 responded that the guidelines were strictly followed as ED would not review so-called 'new editions' which contained only minor amendments for inclusion into RTL. For instance, last year revisions to some 305 textbooks necessitated by the change of sovereignty on 1 July 1997 had been dealt with as requests for 'reprint with minor amendments'. Chief Research and Survey Officer of the Consumer Council (CRSO/CC) also confirmed that most publishers had followed ED's guidelines according to recent random surveys. Nevertheless, he agreed with members that certain factual amendments such as tax rates and census statistics could be reprinted on loose-leaves in order to reduce the frequency of revisions.

17. ACE/CD1 said that, as far as review of textbooks was concerned, ED had to strike a balance between meeting the educational needs of students and affordability of parents. D of E stressed that ED had also taken the following enhancement measures in view of the recent reports about publishers charging excessive prices for textbooks and donating school equipment and other items to schools -

  1. liaison with ICAC on ways to prevent schools or individuals from accepting advantages during the textbook selection process;

  2. requesting the Council on Professional Conduct in Education to examine whether there were breaches of the Code Of Conduct as alleged in media reports; and

  3. requesting the Consumer Council to join forces with parties concerned to consider improvement measures to help ensure fair marketing and sale practices.

18.In response to members, CRSO/CC said that the Consumer Council did receive complaints from parents on the excessive price increase of textbooks. According to a recent study conducted by the Consumer Council, the prices of textbooks for primary and secondary schools had been increased by 8.76% and 7.55% respectively this year, which were much higher than the 5.4% increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI). While textbook prices were determined by a number of factors such as supply and demand, it was apparent that the recent price increase did not correspond with the paper and printing costs which had gone down by 15%-21% and 2%-13% respectively this year.

19. Referring to the Consumer Council's findings, Ms Emily LAU questioned whether there was free market competition if textbook prices did not follow the movements in material and production costs. ACE/ED1 clarified that there was no question of a few publishers monopolizing the market since ED would invite all textbook publishers (about 80 in total) to submit sample editions for review whenever there was a new or revised syllabus on a particular subject. Moreover, selection of textbooks in schools was decided by a panel in accordance with ED's guidelines.

20. The Chairman expressed concern about recent media reports that publishers imposed standard discount rates on textbooks and boycotted those book-sellers who did not adopt the standard rate. He questioned if these were proper marketing practices. Ms Emily LAU suggested the Consumer Council further look into the matter to ascertain if this was in contravention of the competition policy. CRSO/CC agreed, adding that this was an area which the Competition Policy Advisory Group could examine.

21. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong also urged the Government to make sufficient provisions to schools for purchase of equipment so that they need not accept donations from publishers. D of E responded that schools had indeed been allocated sufficient funds for purchase of equipment and teaching materials. She had also appealed to schools and teachers that they should uphold professional ethics and not accept gifts from publishers. In this connection, she had written to the Chairman of the Council of Professional Conduct in Education.

22. Mr Andrew WONG suggested the Government adopt the North America model and provide textbooks for all primary and secondary schools. This would solve the problems of heavy schoolbags and unaffordability of school textbooks. DS/EM said that the Administration would carefully examine the proposal, but noted that considerable resources would be involved.

23. In view of members' concerns, the Chairman requested the Administration and the Consumer Council to provide a written response to the suggestions in paragraphs 15 and 22 before the next Panel meeting scheduled for September 1998. Admin

IV. Installation of air-conditioning in all primary and secondary schools
[Paper No. CB(2)97/98-99(03)]

24. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed disappointment over the Administration's reluctance to provide air-conditioning for all primary and secondary schools despite repeated requests. He commented that Government had adopted double standards in the provision of air-conditioning in government buildings and in schools. He asked whether this was based on policy or financial considerations.

25. DS/EM responded that there were a number of considerations in the formulation of government policies. He said that the fundamental question was whether air-conditioning would bring improvements to the quality of education. While some legislators and educators had suggested providing air-conditioning for all classrooms, there were also comments that air-conditioning might not be good to the health of students. The Government had estimated that the capital cost of installing air-conditioners in all classrooms would be in the region of $5,000 million, exclusive of recurrent and maintenance expenses. In view of the substantial financial implications and the fact that there were many other education initiatives and improvement projects in the pipeline, the Government would have to carefully evaluate the merits of improvement proposals and their priorities for resource allocation. At the present stage, the Government would not consider providing air-conditioning for all classrooms. In this connection, D of E said that under the Noise Abatement Programme, air-conditioners would be provided for classrooms and special rooms in schools which were subject to excessive traffic noise above 65db. As for new schools which were scheduled for completion after 2000, DS/EM said that the design had allowed for sufficient electricity capacity should there be a need to provide air-conditioning in all classrooms.

26. Referring to a letter from a group of handicapped children's parents(LC Paper No. CB(2)125/98-99), Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong asked, as a first step, whether the Administration would be prepared to provide air-conditioners for special schools attended by seriously handicapped children. He considered that air-conditioning was a must rather than a luxury to those handicapped children who were either wheel-chair bound or required special supporting equipment in their movements. DS/EM and D of E agreed with members that priority should be given to those with special needs. D of E advised that Government was already giving urgent and positive consideration to these schools. Adm

27. As regards other schools affected by traffic noises or re-development programmes, D of E assured members that ED would consider air-conditioning on a case-by-case basis to alleviate serious environmental disturbance to these schools.

28. The Chairman thanked representatives of the Administration for attending the meeting.

V. Any other business
(LC Paper No. CB(2)97/98-99)

Change of meeting dates for regular meetings

29. Members noted that some of the monthly meetings of the Education Commission clashed with the regular meetings of the Education Panel. After discussion, members agreed to re-schedule the Panel regular meetings to the third Monday of each month at 4:30 pm, subject to further notice.

Items for discussion at the next meeting

30. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting to be held on 21 September 1998 -

  1. Review of the Education Department;

  2. Freeze of tuition fees for government-funded tertiary education programmes in the 1998/99 academic year; and

  3. Quality Education Fund.

31. The meeting ended at 4:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
7 September 1998

(* Also a member of the LegCo Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting)